Should you share your weight loss journey with other people?

Should you share your weight loss journey with other people?
March 18, 2019 Johan Dahlström

“I’m doing this for me” is a powerful statement when going through a weight loss journey, but are you really better off going through your weight loss journey alone? Science suggest sharing your weight loss journey or going through a weight loss journey with others actually can have a beneficial impact on the outcome.

A study from 2005 examined if involving support partners in obesity treatment was associated with a greater weight loss success. The scientist recruited 109 overweight participants and assigned them to an exercise intensive group. The participants were encouraged to invite up to 3 partners to attend the treatment. The study found that participants with at least one successful support partner, who lost more than 10% weight loss after 6 months, lost more weight than those without successful partners and those with no partners. These results suggest that going through a weight loss journey with successful others can therefore also have a beneficial impact on our own weight loss journey (Gorin et al. 2005).

Similar results were found in a study from 2018 that examined the “ripple effect, which is a phenomenon term used about the fact that weight loss can spread within couples. The scientists examined if when one member of a couple actively is trying to lose weight if this also would lead to a weight loss for their partner even though this person didn’t participate in a any weight loss program. The results showed that overall, 32% of untreated partners lost 3% or more of their initial body weight within 6 months even though they didn’t participate in any weight loss program. This data suggests that weight loss can spread within couples who are sharing their everyday life together, and that widely available lifestyle programs have a weight loss effect beyond the treated individual (Gorin et al. 2018).

But the impact of our partner is for better and for worse. Back in 2007 a study also found that our changes for becoming obese increases if we are surrounded with partners and friends who are becoming obese. They found that a person’s chances of becoming obese increased by 57% if he or she had a friend who became obese in a given interval. Among pairs of adult siblings, if one sibling became obese, the chance that the other would become obese increased by 40%. If one spouse became obese, the likelihood that the other spouse would become obese increased by 37%. Persons of the same sex had relatively greater influence on each other than those of the opposite sex. These results indicates that even though we ain’t sharing our weight loss directly with our partner, friend or siblings we still have a great impact on each others behaviors (Christakis and Fowler, 2007).  

Online sharing is working too!

Our weight loss behavior can also be impacted when we share our weight loss journey with people who aren’t close to us.

In a study from 2009, members of a big online weight loss community were asked through interviews and surveys about their social experience on the online community. The study found that the online weight loss community played a prominent role in the participants weight loss efforts. The members of the community explained the increased weight loss effort with the encouragement, motivation, information and shared experiences they got within the community and the social support they received. This indicates that involving yourself in an online social support group can have a positive impact on your weight loss effort and thereby your weight loss outcome (Hwang et. al. 2010).

Similar results were found in an Australian study from 2017 that examined the effectiveness of using social media in a weight management program for weight and obese individuals during a 24-week intervention. The study randomly divided participants into three groups, a control group and two intervention groups. The two intervention groups were instructed to follow identical weight-management program, but one group received the program through a Facebook group, along with the support network in the group. The other intervention group received the program on a booklet without a support network. The control group were asked to follow the Australian government dietary and physical activity guidelines as standard care throughout the 24 weeks. The intervention groups followed a weight management program. The group with the Facebook group reported a 4.8% reduction in initial weight, significant compared to the control group, as well as numerically greater improvements in body mass index, waist circumference, fat mass, lean mass, and energy intake compared to the intervention group without the Facebook group and the control group. These results suggests that a social element of a weight management program can be beneficial for the result of your weight loss journey. (Jane et al. 2017)

Finally, a study from 2015 examined the relationship between individual and social network variables, and weight loss in a large, international online weight management community. The study found that the average per cent weight loss at six months increased coherent with the numbers of friends the members had and how social embedded in the community they were. Non-networked members lost on average, at six months, 4.1% of initial weight. Members with two to nine friends lost in average 5.2%. Members who were connected to the giant component of the network lost 6.8% and those with high social embeddedness lost 8.3%. These results suggest that sharing your weight loss journey within a social community and engaging in the community can have a positive impact on your weight loss outcome (Poncela-Casasnovas et al. 2015).

Take home message

So science have found that encouragement, social support, social embeddedness, motivation from others, shared experience with like-minded and behavior changes from our significant others can have a positive impact on your weight loss outcome. Thus to get these benefits you will need to “get out there” and share your weight loss journey with other people. But the message is clear: There is no reason to keep your weight loss a secret and go through the journey alone.

References:

Gorin, A, Sheerwood, S, Jeffery, R, Phelan, S, Tate, D & Wing, R 2005, “Involving Support Partners in Obesity Treatment”, Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology vol. 73, no. 2, pp. 241-343.

Gorin, A, Lenz, E, M., Cornelius, T, Huedo-Medina, T, Wojtanowski, A, C., & Foster, G, D., 2018, “Randomized Controlled Trial Examining the Ripple Effect of a Nationally Available Weight Management Program on Untreated Spouses”, Obesity, vol. 26, no. 3, pp. 499-504.

Christakis, N, A., & Fowler, J, H., 2007, “The Spread of Obesity in a Large Social Network over 32 years”, The New England Journal of Medicine, vol. 357, no. 4, pp. 370-379.

Hwang, K, O., Ottenbacher, A, J., Green, A, P., Cannon-Diehl, R, M., Richardson, O, Bernstam, E, V. & Thomas, E, J., 2010, “Social support in an Internet weight loss community” National Institute of Health, 79(1) pp. 5-13.

Jane, M, Hagger, M, Foster, J, Ho, S, Kane, R & Pal, S, 2017, “Effects of a weight management program delivered by social media on weight and metabolic syndrome risk factors in overweight and obese adults: A randomised controlled trial”, PLoS ONE, 12(6).

Poncela-Casasnovas, J, Spring, B, McClary, D, Moller, A, C., Mukogo, R, Pellegrini, C, A., Coons, M, J., ,Davidson, M, Mukherjee, S & Nunes Amaral, L, A., 2015, “Social embeddedness in an online weight management programme is linked to greater weight loss”, J. R. Soc. Interface 12.